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Catch & Release…How it all began

Posted: February 18th, 2014 by Bill Dance

During the early inception of B.A.S.S. we were holding bass tournaments and killed all the bass that were brought in to the weigh-in.  On a positive note, we iced them down in a flat bottom boat and gave them to charity after each tournament. We had received some complaints from locals that saw this and feared we would destroy their local fishing by killing so many bass.

In 1971 Ray Scott was invited to attend a trout angler’s conclave in Colorado and observed how they caught and released 10-13 inch trout.   The anglers would cradle the trout very carefully, take a pair of hemostats to remove the hook and then release the trout back into the stream.  After witnessing how excited the anglers were to release those little trout, Ray thought this would be a great idea for bass fishing.  When Ray returned to Montgomery, he asked Bob Cobb and I what we needed to do in order to keep the bass alive and release them.  We all agreed that something needed to be done as it did not help our image seeing boat loads of dead bass. So after much discussion, Bob Cobb wrote a press release stating that starting in 1972 B.A.S.S. would require the anglers to keep their catch alive and we would release 90% of the bass (alive) caught at each tournament.  It was titled the B.A.S.S. Catch and Release Program and we even initiated a penalty for each dead bass weighed-in. Once we agreed on the press release and Bob mailed it we looked at each other and said, “Now how are we going to do it?”

Bob Cobb, Ray Scott, Harold Sharp

Ray contacted his friend Sam Spencer, AL Game & Fish Department, and asked for advice on how to keep the fish alive during and after tournaments.  I remember we were discussing the small pumps for aerators for aquariums and Sam made a statement that the aerators pumped in air that made bubbles and when the bubbles burst on the surface they left dissolved oxygen in the water.  I said, “Then the secret is just putting bubbles in the water?” Sam replied, “The more the better.”

The next day I bought a small round lawn sprinkler that fits on a garden hose and sprays small streams of water in the air to water your lawn.  I attached the sprinkler to the underside of the top of our livewell in the BASS Boat, added a short piece of water hose to it and attached the other end to a bilge pump that was attached to the floor of the livewell.  When you turned on the bilge pump it pumped the water up thru the sprinkler and sprayed it back in the livewell.  The device just recycled the water and filled the livewell with bubbles.

Harold Sharp, Bill Dance, Ray Scott

So I made a small drawing showing how it was assembled and sent it out to all the tournament anglers, showing how they could build their own aerated livewells. Sometime later I received a call from a BASS member name Ray Coyle, he said he was an engineer and had built an aerated livewell from my drawing.  Coyle stated he had modified my concept slightly by using a small piece of PVC pipe with several small holes drilled in it. He said it raised the oxygen level three time more than the lake water in the livewell.  He also said he had contacted Don Butler [deceased] at Okiebug Lure Company in Oklahoma and they were thinking of putting a kit on the market.  Their modification could easily be installed in a boat livewell [or an igloo cooler] and he hoped I didn’t mind them using my idea.  I replied, “Not at all and I hope you make some money with it”.  Soon Okiebug was selling this revolutionary aeration kit and it didn’t take long before boat companies were installing aerated livewells in all bass boats.

Seeing the need to have a holding tank at the weigh-in, we contacted a firm in Montgomery that built fiberglass boxes/tanks and told them what we needed.  They took our requirements/design and built a large aerated tank with big windows that fit on a trailer.  We used our B.A.S.S. holding tank for many years at our B.A.S.S. Tournaments to keep the bass alive until we could release them.  The combination of livewells in boats along with our new portable holding tank helped us meet our prediction that we would release 90% alive.  Today the Bass tournaments organizers all use [an improved] this system and release their catch alive.  In fact bass are transported many miles to weigh-in locations far away from the lakes to indoor weigh-ins, then released alive.

The first B.A.S.S. Tournament that used the new aeration system was at Lake Kissimmee, FL March 9-11,1972.  The tournament was won by Tom Mann and the aerated live wells worked as we predicted.

Ray Scott

As always, catch one for me!

Bill Dance



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